The Ph.D. Program Requirements

Course of Study

Doctoral students work closely with their guidance committee to formulate their plan of study. This includes an annual evaluation by the guidance committee made up of four regular MSU faculty members (as further defined in the Graduate Handbook) and a meeting with the guidance committee chair each semester to discuss the annual evaluation, progress toward the degree, and professional development. The guidance committee will administer the comprehensive examination by the end of the sixth semester.

The purpose of the comprehensive examination is twofold. First, it ensures that doctoral students have mastered the necessary background material in philosophy to begin their own specialized dissertation research. Second, it provides doctoral students with close supervision and advice in the early stages of their dissertation project. To accomplish these related purposes, the comprehensive examination is divided into three steps:

  1. The guidance committee and the graduate students determine the format and topic of the comprehensive exam over the area in which the student has chosen to write the dissertation — the format may be, for example, one or more papers or a take-home exam with multiple questions;
  2. If the guidance committee passes the written exam, then the student will propose a bibliography and prospectus for the dissertation;
  3. If the guidance committee approves the bibliography and prospectus, the guidance committee will meet with the student, offer advice on the dissertation, and in consultation with the student set the timetable for writing the dissertation.

Finally, each student must write a dissertation and defend it orally to the satisfaction of the guidance committee.

The comprehensive examination and all course work must be completed by the end of the eighth semester; all requirements for the degree must be completed within sixteen semesters of the time a student first enrolls as a doctoral candidate. Students should consult the MSU Graduate Programs bulletin for University regulations.


  • A minimum of 45 credits in PHL courses at the 400-level or higher (not including PHL 999 research credits), distributed as follows:
    • PHL 800—Proseminar in Philosophy and PHL 801—Teaching Philosophy
    • a minimum of 33 credits must be graduate seminars
  • at least two courses/seminars in each of 4 areas: Logic and Philosophy of Science (includes Philosophy of Language); Metaphysics and Epistemology; Value Theory (includes Social and Political); History of Philosophy
  • PHL seminars (other than 801) include:
    • one in the field of the dissertation
    • one in the minor field
    • two in areas other than the dissertation or minor field
  • a minor field: 9 credits completed by the end of the end of the 6th semester
    • a minor field within philosophy, distinct from the field of the dissertation OR
    • an interdisciplinary minor field consisting of a PHL course/seminar and two courses/seminars in one or two other disciplines
  • Pass the Comprehensive Examination
  • Complete an approved dissertation prospectus or topic statement
  • Complete, defend and submit to the graduate school an approved dissertation
  • Meet the department logic requirement
  • Meet the foreign language requirement (if required)
  • Develop a teaching portfolio
  • a minimum of 24 (maximum of 36) credits of PHL 999
  • Satisfy the general requirements of the university and college for the Ph.D. degree (The university requires one year of residence (2 consecutive semesters and 6 credits); normally students spend three or more years in residence.)


  • The following things do not count toward the 45 credits:
    • Foreign language courses
    • Credits taken to fulfill the logic requirement
    • Non-PHL courses/seminars (exception: up to 6 non-PHL credits can be counted toward the 45 credits as long as they are relevant to the dissertation work or part of the interdisciplinary minor)
    • Credits for courses or seminars for which the student has earned a grade of less than a 3.0.

Students who enter the program with an M.A.

Students who enter the doctoral program with an M.A. in Philosophy may have up to 21 credits waived upon recommendation of their guidance committee; of the remaining 24, a minimum of 18 must be seminars (excluding PHL 801). Students entering with other master’s degrees (not in philosophy) may have up to 15 credits waived, and of the remaining 30, a minimum of 24 must be at the 800-level (excluding PHL 801). These waiver rules set maxima; the guidance committee may waive fewer credits, depending on the student’s prior preparation in the discipline.

Students who enter the program with a B.A.

For all students entering the program from the B.A., the guidance committee, in the first semester, reviews the student’s previous academic preparation and files a “Distribution Requirement Report” in which it may waive a maximum of 3 credits in each of 2 areas, or 6 credits in one area, citing upper division courses on the previous transcript. Students who previously completed an M.A. in Philosophy may have up to 3 credits in each of 4 areas waived. These rules set maxima; committees may waive fewer or none, depending on the student’s prior academic experience and achievement.